‘Big Board’ Wows Fans on Churchill’s Opening Night

by | 04.27.2014 | 11:26am
Churchill Downs installed 750 new speakers around the track for its new 'Big Board'

The $12 million investment had its critics, but there's little argument that Churchill Downs' monstrous new video board is a stunner.

For the nearly 25,000 fans on hand for the ‘Big Board' launch Saturday night, it was a huge hit.

Larger than 3 NBA courts and 2,200 46-inch flat-screen TVs, the Big Board impressed racegoers with its size, clarity, and accessibility from almost anywhere on track.

Visible from several downtown buildings (and possibly outer space), the ultra-high-definition Panasonic board will undoubtedly change the Kentucky Derby experience for fans in the infield and the grandstand who have had trouble seeing the horses at various points during the race.

Complimenting the nine million-pixel screen are 750 new speakers throughout the track, useful for allowing everyone to see and hear the post parade, pre- and post-race interviews, and crowd reactions. There's also talk of using the board on non-race days – for movies, concerts, watching sporting events, even video game tournaments.

Here's a taste of the experience from opening night.

  • Tinky

    Yay! Let’s go to the races and watch the action on a really big TV!

    Come to think of it, I think I’ll take a hike in the woods today and find a nice spot to watch a nature program on my ipad.

    • David

      The improvement – and not just the board – to CD is remarkable. Say what you want but those guys seem to get it far more than a puritanical peanut gallery that wants time to stand still. Lord knows CD has warts but close your eyes and imagine any kind of future without this kind of investment.

      • Tinky

        Let’s unpack this.

        First, the improvements at CD are wildly dissonant with the steady degradation of other CDI properties such as Fair Grounds and Calder. As custodians of those historically important tracks, CDI has behaved, and continues to behave shamefully. This underscores that in terms of live racing, CDI cares only about one thing: The Derby.

        Secondly, CDI owns the Twin Spires account wagering platform. The number of customers who use that platform dwarfs the aggregate attendance at CD, and they wager enormous sums of money. Nevertheless, CDI spent $12m on their new video board, while the quality of the streaming video on Twin Spires is an absolute joke compared with those found in other major sports.

        I like NBA basketball, and have used their “League Pass” for several years. I watch games streamed full screen on my 24″ monitor and the quality is outstanding. With the exception of the Keeneland Hi-Def stream, none of the tracks carried by Twin Spires are even comparable in a tiny 5″ window! Once again, the dissonance is staggering.

        I’m all for racetracks providing high-quality video to patrons. But spending $12m for an outsized video board while allowing the FG turf course to fall apart, failing to address long-standing problems relating to Arlington’s synthetic surface, transparently attempting to strangle racing at Calder, and jacking up CD takeout to the highest possible level, is a disgrace.

        Finally, I happen to believe that it is preferable to look someone in the eye and talk to them when they are standing in front of you, rather than texting. So when I go racing, I prefer to actually watch the horses on the track, rather than on a video screen. Yes, big screens are helpful to some, but as my original comment indicates, I find the whole idea to be rather absurd.

        • David

          From where I sit CD has created a world-class facility in Louisville, KY. Even if was economically sound to make a similar investment in New Orleans or Florida it would be folly to do so. Haters of CD wants socialistic action to support a game that is slipping further from mainstream with each passing year. Why Tinky aren’t you and others wearing blinkers aren’t dumping on the individuals responsible for making what the Derby has become – a singular event that has little relavence to historic US racing? Got a flash, it ain’t CD’s fault.

        • Him

          Most tracks — with the exception being Keeneland — don’t produce their signal in HD. There is no way to get “league pass” quality when the source is SD.

          • Tinky

            HD is a straw man. While the quality of the signal source is an important variable, Twin Spires could offer very high quality, full-screen streams if it chose to spend the money.

            TVG and HRTV provide high-quality, full-screen racing on their television feeds, so obviously the source signals are well-capable of being used for higher quality streaming.

          • Vudu

            They really need partying on the infield the way NASCAR events are run.

            The prospect of seeing drunk, topless women will only enhance the racing experience!

      • hammer817

        take a look at the take out and you will never bet 2.00… but maybe go to a concert, or beer festival….

      • David, the original Pilgrims would look at these comments and find nothing at all in them that could possibly correspond to the tenets of their religious beliefs.

        Dispensing with the definition of the formal religion, let’s next go to the variation of the word spelt with the small case “p”:

        “…puritanism: Scrupulous moral vigor, especially hostility to social
        pleasures and indulgences.”

        Do the critics of the CDI regime, as represented on this page, so to speak, answer to that exact description?


        Find a new pejorative adjective.

        • David

          Yes well ‘communication’, n, generally is accepted as the means of transmitting ideas via writing between persons; I suspect your reply suggests my adjective usage has succeeded. Thank you.

          • David, wire Harvard. They must accept you. If they say “no,” well, what the heck. They’re in the Boston area. They too must be Puritans.

    • Vudu

      :) Yes. A big board is nice. No binoculars necessary to watch the race on the backstretch – in fact, you probably can’t. because the board is in the way.

      Simulcast on a really big TV – is still simulcast.
      The 8th wonder of the world.

  • Joel

    I hope CD bettors really enjoy this really big TV…………because they’re paying for it!

    • south florida tom

      Race tracks make their money from the money that fans bet. IS THIS NEW TO YOU????

      • Tinky

        Ahem…that was his point.

        • Tink, I can’t respond to the incompetently executed cut & paste job that “User Name Redacted” posted, above (the “Reply” feature is missing). Allow me to say this here.

          What puzzles me is that “U.N.R.” found it necessary to employ any blank spaces at all.

          If this message represents the people who defending the current CDI regime (reminder: due to the exhibited illiteracy, this well might even be a CDI-planted posting) —

          Please, send them back to grade school to brush up on the fundamentals of writing.

      • Joel

        Nope……not new. It’s just that some racetracks (CDI) charge a whole heck of a lot more than others. Go to the HANA website to educate yourself on value. After KD weekend, the product CD puts out there is mediocre at best. If YOU want to support the new corporate way for horse racing……..help yourself, it’s your money. A very large portion of your money is going to 2 top CDI executives who are “earning” almost $20 million a year between them. Myself, and many others, will be playing exclusively at the tracks that offer fair value and are player friendly.

        • Joel, I agree. And who might these two individuals be and their exact salaries are? And if fired, would they prove to be indispensable?

          • Don Reed

            Amended to read, “And who might these two individuals be and their exact salaries are? About $20,000,000 for a venue that is sold out TWICE in one year’s time?”

            (Assumes that Oaks Day by now is no longer Kentucky’s Best Kept Secret.)

          • Joel

            Bill Mudd $8.3 million last year, and (forgot first name off the top of my head) Carstanjen $9.9 million last year. CDI had over $1 billion in handle last year, and their gross revenue for this years first quarter was up from last year……..yet they claimed a “small loss of $700K”. CDI cares not about the horse racing industry, as evidenced by how they’ve handled Fair Grounds Racetrack in Louisiana.

          • Don Reed

            Joel, you’re worth your weight in cashable $100 win tickets.

            Usually, there’s a decent excuse for a high overhead that wipes a potential profit from “over $1 billion” in gross receipts:

            Bad weather; earthquakes; political upheavals & ensuing anarchy (usually pertinent only to the South American operations… maybe they started chucking bottles at midnight each night down at the Fair

            BIG hotel bills (“We’re WORTH it,” 1959-2013 Annual Reports); “Unavoidable” use of Escalade rental SUVs (Jan.-Nov., 1923-2014);

            “Manifest Destiny”; Run-off special election expenses (usually only applicable in democracies, but justified by original CDI corporate charter); the annual “Intern Ruse” (trying to get people to work for nothing on Kentucky Derby Day) took a header;

            Fending off hostile takeovers (“Why did I EVER hire my nephew?!”); & the inevitable…

            “Our Indispensible Executives” (headline, National Inquirer), back from a trip to Del Mar — announcing their conversion to Scientology, the only outfit that can explain why Giacomo (50-1) won the 2005 Kentucky Derby (John Travolta, up).

            Which of the above (or in which combinations) will we see in the CDI 2014 annual report?

            At any rate, I had no idea how expensive it is to live in Louisville, Kentucky.

            $8.3 MILLION? $9.9 MILLION?

            Thems some pretty pricey Hot Brown penny loafers.

            Even in Lexington, which is where exactly $18,200,000 should have been paid to the UK basketball team members (legally, “Interns”) who sell out Rupp Arena… more than TWICE in one year, every year.

          • guest

            Probably no more indispensable than the CD employee who left after the financial wreck known as the HullabaLOU music festival of 2010, sponsored & run by Churchill Downs. Google it. I was there. The Bon Jovi concert was great, but it convinced me CD is a terrible concert venue. And after I went there for the races a couple years ago, I figured out it’s not a great venue for horse racing either, esp. if you’re expecting helpful signs telling you where things are, or if you might like to actually be able to SEE the horses from the paddock or the seats.

            And don’t even get me started on the $20 parking lot, not actually owned by CD but close enough to the venue to make you think it’s a good place to park, until you get there & see the guy holding up the $20 sign.

          • The guy holding the sign gets the first $20. The next $20 covers the parking.

        • Username_Redacted

          Stop it with the HANA company line. Takeout is important but it isn’t everything. You have to pick winners to have takeout matter, and the vast majority of the HANA clones are not even breakeven players. For a breakeven player who bets $10,000 a year, the net impact of the raise in takeout is $150. For example, you couldn’t get me to play the Keeneland Poly races even with a positive rebate, because I couldn’t pick a winner 10 yards from the wire there. There is no “value” on consistently losing tickets. Turfway and Sam Houston are now 5th and 6th on the HANA track ratings, would you rather play those than Churchill than those, and if so, why? It certainly isn’t the spectacular horseflesh.

          Churchill Downs has very good racing day in and day out, especially considering the day to day product is being attacked by Indiana with slots and now Ohio as well. The experience at Downs after Dark is second to none. It’s player friendly and fan friendly.

          Let me ask you this, do you bag on the NYRA tracks for their laughable 24% takeout on multirace wagers? Sharps that make it impossible to find value in day to day races? And consistently bad product for 8 months of the year? I’m from NY, for what it’s worth, and live in KY. I much prefer Churchill’s product to NYRA outside of the weekend racing at Saratoga.

          • Joel

            Your comment clearly demonstrates your lack of concern for the industry as a whole. CDI had over $billion in handle last year (most of it was off track handle). So an oversized TV at CD is not giving anything back to the majority of it’s players. Only the minority (which is debatable in itself). It might cost YOU $150, but it’s costing ALL horseplayers millions of dollars. Worse than that is that those millions are going directly into the wallets of CDI’s top executives, not for the good of horse racing. It’s been proven time and time again that increasing the takeout will only decrease the handle, which is detrimental to our sport. CDI has proven that slots is their goal, not the good of horse racing. Look how they’ve handled FG race track……it’s despicable. Supporting CDI is supporting the demise of horse racing. If CDI profits rise, players wallets shrink. If this takeout increase is successful, then other tracks are sure to follow suit. It’s not about you, it’s about the good of horse racing.

          • Joel

            ………and no, CD’s product is not good day in and day out. After KD weekend, it is mediocre at best.
            …….and yes, I will bag on ANY track that has ridiculous takeouts. NYRA was NOT the topic of this article.

          • Username_Redacted

            Let’s get something straight. I am not in favor of a takeout increase. It will cost me more than $150, I bet $70,000 in 2013 and roughly 25% of that was on CD, nearly all of it in Pick 4’s and Pick 3’s so actually a 3% increase. That works out to about $500. My net profit for the year was $2,000 and I was damn proud of finishing in the black, so 25% of my profits are gone with the takeout increase. CD is not big about caring about their players. Despite the fact that over 50% of the handle I put through last year was on Twinspires, I got kicked out of the Gold Room one evening for “not being a big enough player” even though the room was basically empty. That’s not appealing to their customer base.

            Handle will likely go down (however it was actually up 9% year over year and 17% on a per race basis on opening night), so hopefully they see the light and do drop the prices again (they were the lowest takeouts in the nation prior to the increase.) I also don’t like the way they’ve “invested” in Fair Grounds.

            But here’s the rub. This is politically motivated to twist arms in Frankfort and get some action on slots for the tracks which this state desperately needs given that the competition already has them. CDI is a publicly traded company. Their objective is to maximize profits for their shareholders. Their interests conflict with “helping the industry”. They are playing the game here to yes, get slots. On the point about the CEO’s pay, what do you think a company with a capitalization of $1.6 Billion should pay their CEO? Especially when I KNOW I could do a better job than he does? But a $1.5 million salary is the going rate. Look at the comparables. For example, Speedway Motorsports (market cap= $750 million) pays their 87 year old figurehead CEO $2.2 million a year.

            I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re a Republican, not based on your writing but based on the fact that 80% of the racing industry is. Unfortunately, Republicans are pro-corporation and anti-racing. THIS IS A FACT. If David Williams and his henchmen were not in power in Kentucky the slots would be there and HANA would be happy since takeout would be lower. If you want real change for Kentucky racing, vote the jokers out that are anti-racing and maybe we will actually see some positive steps.

          • “Let’s get something straight.”
            If you haven’t been able to by now, what’s the rush?

          • Joel

            I agree with most everything you’re saying, now. Finishing the year in the black is to be commended. I’ve had more losing years than winning, but have managed to make some of the winning years really count. Not losing is always a win in my book. As far as politics go, I despise politics. Trying to figure out who’s the lesser of two evils seems awfully redundant to me. Redundant as it may be, I’m more of an anti-republican/corporation kind of guy. So, I guess I fall in to the 20% category.
            I respect your reply, that is……except for the “Republican” insinuation. :)

          • Username_Redacted

            Ha ha, fair enough. Again, that was “playing the odds” not based on your previous responses. 1/5 shots lose sometimes…

            I am interested to see how the takeout increase plays out. It’s pretty hard to get a boycott large enough to be effective. Instead, an all out social media blitz may be the best approach. Trust me when I say they are noticing the negative press,posts,tweets- and corporations are very concerned with protecting their “brand”. Unfortunately CDI doesn’t have enough people in place that understand the game- as evidenced by the comment about the FG turf by an exec, “They all train on dirt, they can race on it” (WTF? Talk about showing a complete lack of understanding of the breed) so attacking the brand may be a better method.

          • guest

            Not sure where you get the idea that the GOP is anti-racing, considering that a GOP state senator in KY was one of the people who proposed the bill to allow casinos, and a DRF article quoted him as saying the Senate wouldn’t consider it unless the Democratic controlled house passed it first, which apparently nobody wanted to do during an election year.

            And I’ve never understood why people complain so much about takeout. It does not affect your personal bet return. If the tote board says it pays $6.40 for a win bet, then $6.40 is what will show up in your twin spires account. It’s not $6.40 minus a 20% takeout for the track. The only thing you need to worry about is what you will owe the IRS in taxes.

          • David

            Good points User but (as you likely know), never allow the facts to get in the way of a CD critic. Put another way to your sentiment, most in this business had better wake up and realize the cost (hold) isn’t the problem as much as the (lack of) number of individual sharing the return. The degree of difficulty, percentage of gimmic play and an out-dated pari-mutual model have served to reduce net winners to a fraction of the total player pool. It’s a suckers’ game and, while you and play for pleasure, rush or whatever, most young people have figured it out. In short, it ain’t all ’bout the price.

  • Richard C

    Build it at Churchill Downs….and they will close other tracks to pay for it.

  • Hoops and Horses

    One thing I would be doing during the spring and September meets would be to make every Friday and Saturday after the Derby “Racing and a movie” nights (except for Stephen Foster night). First post for these cards would be 3:30 PM with the last race going off around 9:15 PM or so and the movie starting around 9:40 or so. That to me would attract a lot of dates who could conceivably make it racing, dinner and a movie in the same place. For the September meet, first post could be 2:45 PM on Fridays and Saturdays with the last race at 8:15 PM or so and the movie starting at 8:40 while Sundays could be “Racing and Football” Sundays with first post at 2:00 PM, the last race at 7:50 PM or so and the Sunday Night Football game after that on the gigantic screen.

    • Chris Lowe

      Opening movie theater offering: “Wall Street”. Greed is good.

      • Hoops and Horses

        That would actually make sense.

        Actually got the idea from Ascot, where they actually do have movie nights throughout the summer in addition to the racing programs. You got a gigantic screen to use, why not use it for more than just racing.

    • Anton Chigurh

      That’s not a bad idea.

    • Username_Redacted

      Thumbs up. Great idea

  • PTP

    Churchill raced last night?


  • Did it impress the fans with a three-NBA court-sized display of CDI’s just-in-time jacked-up take-out rates?
    More than once, you say? How conscientious of them!

    • C Hogan

      CD has NO FAN BASE. I don’t know one horse player that likes CD. After the Derby they will be back to 1500 customers. They can take all that loud music and shove it. I’m going to drive 150 miles to bet at Keeneland or with my new bookie. Screw CD.

      • Those 1,500 are stranded commuters who took got on the wrong BART train in San Francisco.

  • Kris

    I imagine that the new video board is at its best at night. I find it sad that the fan experience at Churchill is so bad that they had to put this video board in place just so the folks at Churchill on Oaks and Derby Day can see the race being run. Unless you’re wealthy and can buy proper seats……

  • hadrianmarcus

    No truth to the rumor that the Fair Grounds ‘big board’ is a 1987 40-inch rear projection Toshiba television that CDI picked up in a local yard sale. It’s good that CDI divides its resources so evenly between its properties.

  • Randyp

    Handle appeared to be way up at CHDN…… So much for a boycott…….. Bummer!

  • nu-fan

    Okay. I happen to think this is not a bad idea. When I go to the tracks, the screens for the grandstands are 1) not large enough and 2) do not have enough clarity to see much. I have to pay very close attention to the track announcer to know what is going on at the other side of the field. Watching a race on my home TV, the cameras follow the horses and so can I. I wonder if Churchill is just coming to the realization that they need to compete with the comfort of home viewing as well as wagering online?

  • gus stewart

    entertainment entertainment entertainment! Sorry the traditional thought of horse racing wont cut it anymore, The old fan base is dying younger people right or wrong are into reality tv and technology. Takeout, look at the lottery. people are followers not leaders today. You want to talk about takeout. Night racing, music, big screens. people seeing themselves on a big screen, welcome to the new world. the only possible future of horse racing!

  • Gallop

    When this was announced, I figured it was really a way of CDI being able to create more venues for high priced locations in the infield. You can’t build tall in an infield without everyone getting upset about losing their view of the backstretch, so I figured this was their work around.
    For anyone that saw the board and sees what’s going on, is the above plausible?
    Is the board an investment that then allows them to max out even more square feet of Churchill Downs? (ie. not just an out of the goodness of their hearts investment to make your experience better)

  • hammer

    wow.. the new TV is great… Let”s raise takeout to 50% so the horseplayers (suckers) pay for it..frank stronach with all his nonsense and propaganga is for himself, not anyone else…anyone who plays (gives) their money is a sucker.. as a wise ol racetracker once told me…Bullshit is easier to sell on the racetrack then Russian diamonds…

  • Joel

    The more I think about it, the more I realize that this oversized $12 million TV is really more of a tax write-off than anything else. I mean, how else does CDI show gains in gross revenue in the first quarter of 2014 after an over $1 billion handle in 2013, only to claim a “small loss of $700K??? I find it very hard to believe they spent $12 million on ANYTHING for the player experience, concerts, movies, or anything else for that matter…..given their history of NOT doing anything good for the game.. That would be naïve, in my opinion.
    For me, personally, a TV of any kind does absolutely NOTHING to enhance the racing experience. When I go to the races, I like to go to the paddock, look at the horses, experience what being there has to offer. I enjoy pulling out the binoculars to get a better look at the horses on the track. That’s how my grandparents did it. I can watch all the TV I want at home,or anywhere else for that matter (laptop, tablet, smartphone). I DON’T go to the races to watch a TV! In my opinion, it actually takes away from the “experience”.

    • Username_Redacted

      Joel, Churchill is in a seasonal business. Their income statement always shows a small loss or gain in the first quarter. They actually showed a $58 million profit in 2013 after just a $1 million profit in the first quarter. Operating Income (“EBITDA”) was $20MM.

      Your assumption on taxes is sort of right… but not exactly. The video board was actually accounted for in 2013, but assets such as this get to be written off through Depreciation (the “D” in the acronym above) through their useful life (in this case, somewhere between 5 and 10 years.) This is a non-cash item… so they didn’t lose money but the taxman gives them the credit for losing it.

      Keep in mind 99.9% of people don’t use binoculars anymore. Thus the anger over the lack of a working board at FG.

  • Scott

    Nothing spent on Fair Grounds. Can’t hear the call. Video is horrible or broke. All about the casino. CD blows for the horse racing fans in New Orleans.

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